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G is for Gratitude

Updated: Feb 28

The concept of gratitude has a chapter all to itself in ‘The Mindful Photographer’ by Sophie Howarth, and it’s easy to see why. The book refers to a photographer working for the National Geographic magazine who found himself empty, exhausted and burnt out after travelling the world and capturing many different images. He took some time out and decided to take just one photo a day during spring in his native Minnesota. The gratitude he felt as he slowed down and took beautiful pictures was something he found very healing. I too find myself sometimes ‘thanking nature’ as I take a photo that brings me a newfound appreciation of the wonderful natural world all around me.

Over the years I have very much enjoyed the work of Ben Horne, who can be seen on YouTube. He is a landscape photographer and a vlogger, making videos about the images he takes. His whole approach is one of gratitude and respect. He is careful and thoughtful, often taking only a few images at each location. He watches where he stands and actively looks after the environments he visits by taking a bag with him to collect litter. He gives the example of helium birthday balloons turning up in the desert which he collected up and disposed of at home.

There are all sorts of ways I can feel gratitude. Partly it is to do with my faith - I am conscious of a creator God, as is Paul Sanders, my next recommendation. Paul will wait a long time to obtain a unique image which allows him to immerse himself in the landscape. He actively promotes an attitude of gratitude in his workshops. See his website for more details.

The art of photography offers twofold opportunities for gratefulness: the pleasure of taking an image and the memories evoked by seeing that image again at a later point. I have learnt to broaden that gratefulness by thinking of how much photography has advanced. Those unsung people who made a carbon fibre tripod so I no longer have to lug around a heavy metal one, and those who took this one step further and included an anti-vibration element in my camera so I can abandon my tripod altogether, that is if I’m having a good day. The sheer capacity of my mobile phone to enable me to capture images ‘on the go’ is something I appreciate too.

In the world of painting we hear about the great painters through the centuries, but not about the inventor of paint tubes enabling the impressionists to paint ‘en plein air’. I show my gratitude to these painters by making time to visit galleries and to reflect in an unhurried way on what they have produced. I sometimes forget, however, the backroom team - all those curators, administrators and financiers who do the practical work of putting an exhibition together. Thankfully there remains a thirst for it, as the recent Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, which sold out months in advance, demonstrates.

My friend who helps me write this column due to my dyslexia (sometimes known as the Bibster!) tells me she often thinks or even writes down a few things she is grateful for before falling asleep, finding it particularly helpful in tougher times. This is by no means an original practice, but it links in well with the visual practice described earlier of taking a ‘gratitude photo’ daily.

I am personally grateful that, through this blog, I have a voice, a place where I can express my thoughts and that people choose to read it!

Perhaps it is most of all about awareness, a different mindset, a greater capacity for enjoyment. My beloved mum used to sing a song, ‘Count your blessings name them one by one…’ My wife still does!


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